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IN the summer of 1869 the attention of the survivors of the civil war was called to the large number of fatherless children in Ohio, who were made so by the enormous gift of Ohio men to the Union Army. Every hamlet and township possessed its quota of soldiers' orphans, while in the larger cities the number of children rendered fatherless by the war was so great as to be particularly noticeable to the public spirited men and women who, having served in or in behalf of the Union Army when in the field, found themselves unwilling to rest from their labors until every possible step had been taken to heal the wounds of that notable conflict. The members of the Grand Army of the Republic in Ohio took up the matter of providing a home for these orphans, those ex-soldiers who were already prominent in the affairs of the state, taking the lead in the agitation of the subject which followed. The Hon. Lewis B. Gunkle, of the Soldier's Home at Dayton, Chaplain G. W. Collier (now retired U. S. A.) of Delaware, General Wm. H. Gibson, of Tiffin, Lieutenant Governor Lee, of Toledo, and Mrs. Governor (afterward Mrs. President) Hayes, being prominently identified with the early days of the Home. In September, 1869, a two-story building in the city of Xenia [pronounced: Zinnia] was rented by the Grand Army officials, and converted by temporary wooden partitions, stairways and halls, into crowded accommodations for possibly 50 children. Funds were raised from public and private sources, by the men who canvassed the state and addressed churches, Sunday schools, Grand Army meetings and private individuals, and children were admitted as fast as accommodations for them could be provided. The citizens of Xenia and Greene county were genuinely interested in the movement, and spared no pains to make it a success. A room in the High School Building, of Xenia, was set apart for the children of the Home by the board of education, thus providing immediate school privileges, and the Court House Park was voted to their use by the city and county officers, thus providing a convenient and well kept playground. The citizens presented the Home with 150 acres of ground on which the present institutions was afterward located by the state, and the county commissioners of Green county, during that winter, voted six thousand dollars toward the current expenses of the Home to prevent the children from feeling the reduced condition to which the treasury of the Grand Army had been depleted by the expense of opening and operating an institution of such a character. The loyalty and public spirit of the men and women of Green county during the was was repeated in their efforts in behalf of the orphans of the war. In the winter of 1870, with about 75 children in the Home, an appeal was made to the General Assembly to adopt the children as wards of the state, and to take over the property of the Home and make it a state institution. A committee from the General Assembly visited the children, who were assembled in the City Hall in Xenia, inspected the temporary quarters in town, and the property belonging to the Home just outside the city limits to the southeast, and returned to Columbus in favor of the proposition. The committee was addressed on behalf of the children by a Master Gilkey, who was then a boy of twelve years old, having been admitted to the Home from trumbull county in January of that year
In April of 1870 the Home passed under the control of the state, and its removal from Xenia to its present location on the old Pelham farm, was accomplished in September, the work of construction having been pushed sufficiently to accommodate the children then in attendance. The doors were thrown open to new pupils as soon as the transfer from the city to the farm was effected, and from September, 1870, to September, 1901, there has never been an hour when there were not more applicants for admission than could possibly be received.
It is a matter of course that the requirements for admission should be changed with changing conditions. In 1870 no children were entitled to admission but those whose fathers were killed in action, or had since died from the wounds or disabilities of war. The lapse of time soon rendered this class of children ineligible from age-limit, and the doors were then opened successively to those whose fathers being ex-soldiers had died from any cause; to those whose mothers had died, the father being an ex-soldier, and unable to properly care for his children; to the children of ex-soldiers, whose parents being alive were not able to care for them; to the children of the Spanish-American war. These latter are now being admitted.
In 1870 the instruction consisted of the usual school course with some outdoor labor; in 1875 industrial pursuits were added to the school course, and to the number of industries then inaugurated there have been constant additions as the science of manual training has become more familiar to the educator. In the Home was thus established far in advance of similar public institutions, a Manual Training School supported by public funds for public uses. The Home is the largest institution of its kind in the world, and has a long history of active educational work. Graduates from its schools are filling honorable positions in the civil, political, financial, military and naval departments of American life. It has been frequently said that in all America it would be hard to find a spot more hallowed to the memory of American Soldiery, more filled with the stirring influences of patriotic devotion to country and to the country's flag; more typical of the peace and honor which follow from the defense of Rights and Liberty, than among the scenes and experiences which surround the home and school life of the 900 pupils of the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orpahns' Home in Xenia.
From an old photograph which has been in the possession of the editor since 1872, the illustration was made which heads this article, and, on the back of this old photograph is given the names of the men who were appointed to take over the Home from the Grand Army in April, 1870, and mould it into a state institution. They are: —
BOARD OF MANAGERS, 1870-1874.
Dr. L. D. Griswald, Medical Dept. U. S. V. .............................. Elyria.
The annual report for 1900 gives the following official roster for 1901: —
BOARD OF MANAGERS 1901-3.
The Home employs thirty-two cottage matrons, thirty-two teachers in the regular course, fourteen foremen of industrial branches and trades and gives a home and instruction to about 950 children in average attendance.
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